Ben Carson’s woe-is-me whining about media scrutiny is more than just a sorry spectacle. It shows the extent to which a culture of victimization has infected the conservative movement.
“There’s no question I’m getting special scrutiny, because there are lot of people who are very threatened,” Carson said in a “Face the Nation” interview Sunday. “The whole point is to distract, distract the populace, distract me.”
That’s rich, given how Carson’s own mouth has proved to be such a powerful weapon of mass distraction. His “personal theory” that the pyramids of Egypt were built by the biblical patriarch Joseph as grain silos – rather than by Egyptians as pharaonic tombs – is but one example.
The retired neurosurgeon and novice politician, one of the leaders in the GOP presidential race, is aggrieved that journalists are looking into his background. Was he really “offered a full scholarship” to West Point, as he has claimed? Not exactly, it turns out. Was he really as much of a juvenile delinquent as he says? Maybe yes, maybe no.
Since Carson has never before sought public office, it should be no surprise that the thorough vetting given to any major presidential candidate comes as a shock. Moreover, since Carson has no record to run on, his main appeal to voters is his inspirational life story: Through sheer determination and unshakable faith in God, a young man rises from inner-city Detroit to become one of the most acclaimed brain surgeons of his time. If the story crumbles, Carson’s candidacy goes with it.
It is clear that the good doctor exaggerated some events and, shall we say, misremembered others. Instead of finding a way to acknowledge these lapses and move on, he responds with the notion that the scrutiny he’s getting is somehow “special.”
This will come as a surprise to Marco Rubio, whose credit card bills and personal finances are being subjected to forensic accounting. Or to Hillary Clinton, who endured an 11-hour congressional grilling over Benghazi.
Most absurd of all is Carson’s assertion – supported by an amen chorus of prominent conservatives – that Republicans are generally subjected to tougher vetting than Democrats. This supposedly explains why Carson is being raked over the coals while President Obama somehow was given a free pass eight years ago.
“I do not remember this level of scrutiny for one President Barack Obama when he was running,” Carson said Friday. “In fact, I remember just the opposite. I remember people saying, ‘Oh, we won’t really talk about that. We won’t talk about that relationship. Well, Frank Marshall Davis, well, we don’t want to talk about that. Bernardine Dohrn, Bill Ayers, well, we don’t really know him. You know, all the things that Jeremiah Wright was saying, oh, not a big problem.’”
Carson definitively refutes his own point. Obama’s friendships and associations were unearthed, reported and talked about incessantly. The stories he told in his books were truth-squadded. Critics suggested he was a secret Muslim while at the same time holding him responsible for sermons given by his Christian pastor.
The idea that Democratic presidential candidates are somehow not thoroughly examined is patently absurd. Yet Ted Cruz got a big ovation at the CNBC debate when he pushed back at the aggressive questioning and claimed that in the recent Democratic debate, “every fawning question from the media was, ‘Which of you is more handsome and wise?’”
Cruz’s tirade and Carson’s complaining fit neatly into the conservative narrative of victimization by the liberal media. The idea seems to be that the conservative worldview would surely be adopted by more Americans if not for the dastardly intermediation of leftist reporters and editors.
In Carson’s case, this argument is given an additional twist. Progressives are supposedly somehow “threatened” by an African-American conservative and thus seek to “destroy” him.
Oh, come on. What’s the threat, that Carson will lure African-Americans in droves to the Republican Party? Let me go out on a limb and predict that a man who described the first black president as “like most psychopaths” and the Affordable Care Act as the worst thing since slavery will not prove to be much of a pied piper. The simple truth is that African Americans reject the GOP because it seems indifferent or hostile to their interests.
Imagining some kind of media conspiracy will not help the conservative movement. Instead, Republicans should try coming up with policies that voters see as reasonable, inclusive and fair.
And as for Carson: Stop complaining, already, and start making sense.
Eugene Robinson’s email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.